Choose curiosity, over judgement


The circular economy and how it might serve a charity world

My first day. I walked into my Innovation Management MA excited at the prospect of a new lens to elegantly disrupt my world. For the next two years I am committed to explore, question and re-think all the things I know and don’t know in order to affect innovation. 

First unit: Circular Economy
I’d never heard of this phrase before and it’s profoundly shifted my perspective on what we mean by ‘economy’ and what we mean by ‘wealth’. 

Buzz words like ‘recycle’ or ‘sustainable’ don’t even scratch the surface of this concept. In a crude definition of how I’ve come to understand it in the last 36 hours is; we shouldn’t create something that will end up being waste e.g. landfill/pollutant/harmful in any way shape or form to any thing on this planet. We are prompted by Michael Braungart and William McDonough in the international best seller ‘Cradle to Cradle’ to look to Mother Earth, mimic her strategies and complex systems with a healthy dose of creativity in order to recreate a world that is safe for all AND creates a robust successful economy. 

Just to put things in perspective, those who know me, know I love ‘things’. As a designer I whole heartedly love stuff. Well-made things, things with stories, things that make my life better, things that are yellow, things that make me think or more importantly – make my life more fun.

A world of abundance
But sometimes I feel a guilty about this. We generally have a ‘take-make-dispose’ economy, we buy something, own it and then disregard it. This is a ‘cradle to grave’ economy. But in this new circular economy approach, that Braungart and McDonough are promoting, we talk about ‘cradle to cradle’. Taken from The Ellen MacArthur Foundation she imagines ‘an economy in which today’s goods are tomorrow’s resources, forming a virtuous cycle that fosters prosperity in a world of finite resources’.  Which sounds so obvious when you think about it, because we live in a world of abundance. 

An example of this would be we might decide to never ‘own’ a new Apple product. We just lease it. This ‘rental’ model was popular in the 90’s where one could loan a TV. The ownership would always belong to the brand and not the consumer. When the product was not needed or broken we would go back to the brand, the product would be dismantled and the parts reused for the next generation product or recycled into something else. The brand is accountable for their ‘stuff’. 

A charity perspective
With my curious mind firmly switched on and not judging the current practices and models, I asked myself about the charity sector of which I’ve worked in for 13 years. If we want to make a go of this circular economy concept, then how might the values of an organisation, for example a cancer charity, go about reflecting this? 

If the value proposition is ‘Supporting people with cancer’. Should one be thinking about the processes and structures within the organisation that potentially cause cancer? Altruistically, you’d say, ‘yeah, of course they should’. But, how easy is that on low budgets and the way the world currently operates? Off the top of my head I’m thinking about air pollution; transporting printed materials and products by air to ultimately save money. Big picture, this may add to the impact of pollution contributing to the rise in number of people affected by cancer. But, it's cheaper, it's a normal way of doing things and it saves the charity money of which a high percentage (if not all) is raised by enthusiastic volunteers’ blood, sweat and tears. 

Let’s think of opportunities in applying the circular economy on a simple level. Perhaps take the ‘rental’ concept into the current system of information booklets given out for free by charities. The charity would ‘own’ the product and lease it out like a library. When the user has finished with it – instead of discarding it or putting it straight in the bin or recycling – the charity could have a system where it's returned and the materials are either sent to a new user or the raw material is reused for something else. Saving the charity money and resources. 

Over the last few years the charity sector has been under the microscope and new regulations are in place for best practice and transparency on how charity money is being spent. And, rightly so.

With that in mind is it right for a charity to spend money, time and effort looking at this concept of circular economy and invest in changing their products and practices accordingly? Ethically and responsibly engaging in new ways of doing things that help support a planet of limited raw materials to come full-circle. 

Would society and the media call it ‘wasting time and money’? Even though, charities may be wasting precious materials, time and resources that could eventually go back into the organisations wealth and isn’t wasted at all? Ultimately it could be creating something far more sustainable for their future. 

Let's start a conversation
I’m not trying to be needlessly provocative. These questions seem more relevant than ever and I can't help but wonder if it’s ok for charities to be leaders of innovation or do they have to be on the sidelines – waiting for innovation to happen to them? 



The Odds of Being Creative

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why the theme of creativity makes me behave like I’m on a mission to discover the secret of mankind or something.

Maybe, I am – or maybe I’m just acting on my impulses like an alien just visiting planet Earth for a limited time. Whatever the reason, it’s fun so I will carry on. 

This transcendent act of creativity feels exhuberant. It anchors my life and pivots me in different directions of inspiration. It’s like a wave on the shore – you can’t catch it, or hold onto it but you can see the energy, the momentum, the cause and effect it has on all things it touches. And, I came to a conclusion that the reason why creativity can be trixy is because we sometimes restrict its natural flow. And, the flow originates from inside each and every one of us – even you, yes you. 

Let's start at the beginning
When you were first creative – you might consider the creation of you. It was pretty unique. In fact, the odds of you being born is about one in 400 trillion. I’m not down with the latest miracle this side of AD, but on the originality scale, it’s better than Uber, Snapchat and the iPhone put together. 

So, with those incredible odds why do so many of us shy away from being creative and feel unoriginal? 

And, I'm not talking about creating a drawing, dress, novel or product. I'm talking about creating the version of yourself that feels right, connects to your core and is inexplicably and undeniably you. Dr Suess said it best;

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

But E.E.Cummings nailed why being creative isn't easy;

‘To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, day and night, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.’

I just finished reading a wonderful book 'The Art of Creative Thinking' by Rod Judkins, an artist and lecturer at Central St Martins and he says;

‘Everyone is searching for originality, ironically it is right there within them, but most people are too busy being someone else. Creative people are prepared to be themselves. They make the most of their own experiences whether good or bad. The advantage of being themselves is that they are original. There is no one like them. This makes whatever they do unique.’

As a designer
I think in terms of patterns and shapes, colour and monochrome, flat and textured, landscape or portrait. But, that's just a tiny fraction of me. I also see the world according to my childhood, my parents, the battle of the roses and being the youngest of three sisters. The friendships and relationships I've been lucky to have and unfortunate to loose. The jobs, the places I've lived and the amazing communities visited. All of these experiences have shaped my world, in possibly expected and unexpected ways. But, the point I'm making is that they are uniquely mine. And, so are yours. Own them with pride. No one sees the world like you do, so don't be scared of being different. That's what makes the world an interesting place to live.  

'In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different'. Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel
The avant-guard french fashion designer Coco Chanel knew what she liked and what she didn't, she had a strong instinct and vision. In a world where corsets were the standard of good taste and stature, she believed that 'Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury'. She changed the face of fashion in the 20s and her little black dress is a staple in many women's wardrobe today. All it takes is to own your ideas, believe in them and don't worry what everyone else is doing. 

And, if you're still wondering how to connect to the raw creative flow. Go get a piece of paper, find a quiet comfy spot and write down all the things you loved when you were a child. Now, take time out to discover the things that pique your interest, engage your curiosity and go set yourself free and run with it.

Whether it's that you want to start roller-blading again after 19 years or have a desire to collect marvel comics. You want to start a charity to help neglected Guinea pigs (it's a thing) or you want to create the best party for your five year old son who loves Strictly Come Dancing or you want to start a coaching start-up for women in charity or improvisation classes in schools for disengaged kids. Don't wait for a sign or permission because you'll be waiting forever, just go do it. 

Finally, if you need an extra kick-start this is the quote from Judkins' thought-provoking book that inspired me to write this article.

'Don't be distracted by the views of others: focus on what engages and inspires you. The most exhilarating experiences are generated in the mind, triggered by information that challenges our thinking. If you're excited by a subject that no one else is, all that should matter to you is that you're interested. Revolutionary thinkers who create totally new ideas are driven by their interests, not whether or not others are as interested'.

Write it down. Read it everyday until you know every word and give yourself the permission you need, to be you.

Can your emotions influence your ideas?

Post it notes of feelings

Anxious. Confused. Stressed. You’d think these feelings were linked to waiting for test results, going for an exam or being trapped in a lift, right?

Wrong. They’re actually some of the most common emotions people experience when asked

‘What’s your idea?’

I’ve asked over 100 people this question, and so far I always get a similar response. I’m more likely to hear a negative response, like ‘horrified’ than a positive one ‘yay’. Of course, I do hear ‘I’m excited’ but they’re few and far between, in my experience.

The pessimist

It's natural for some people to be pessimistic or sink into self-doubt when it comes to sharing ideas, most people know that feeling and can often recall a time when their idea was squished right before their eyes, and it can come back to haunt us. Vulnerability kicks in and to get a little scientific the small almond shape structure in the brain called the amygdala goes into overdrive. Harvard business review explains

‘the amygdala responds powerfully to negative emotions, which are regarded as signals of threat. Functional brain imaging has shown that activation of the amygdala by negative emotions interferes with the brain’s ability to solve problems or do other cognitive work’.

The switch

But, what if I told you that optimism and positive emotions can help generate better results. Would it switch you into a Pollyanna, where you believe your ideas actually, might just be, maybe brilliant?

‘Positive emotions and thoughts improve the brain’s executive function, and so help open the door to creative and strategic thinking.’ Havard Business Review

The Marshmallow Test

Back in the 60’s Walter Mischel conducted experiments with children called ‘The Marshmallow Tests’ to see if expectations about success help or hinder completion of a task.

‘The boys with high expectations for success approached the task more confidently, as if they had already succeeded at them. They wanted to ‘go for it’ and they were willing to risk failure because they did not believe they would fail. And evidently were more successful than the kids who thought they couldn’t do it before they had even started.’

Encourage your inner optimist

It doesn’t really matter what the ‘thing’ is we’re trying to solve, whether it’s a business thing, art, fixing a broken table or a relationship that needs some attention. It’s the ability to switch from a pessimistic mind-set to an optimistic mind-set. Where we listen to and more importantly believe in ourselves, that ‘I will find the answer’ and ‘my ideas are great’. And, if you give the optimist in you a chance you’ll notice generating ideas gets easier plus you’ll have a more enjoyable time in the moment.

Three things you can try  

  1. Try on the ‘go for it’ attitude next time you’re generating ideas.
  2. Improve your balance of positive and negative emotions over the course of the day with Dr. Barbara Fredrickson quiz, we are looking for 3:1 ratio
  3. Don’t always listen to your inner critic he can be such an annoying cynic.

If you can do number 3, let me know how you get on! 


What's the secret tonic of creativity?


I step off the plane and I see people. Yes, I know people. Roads. Yep seen roads before. Relationships. Laughter. Boredom. Yes, yes and yes. I know all these things but (somehow everything seems unfamiliar and strange) they aren't quite the same. It’s different. 

Last week I took a short trip to Copenhagen and experienced that exact feeling, it’s like folding your arms the wrong way so you feel slightly uncomfortable. My daily habits, safe patterns and normal routines that keep me, ‘me’ were disrupted for a brief period of time. 

When we travel we notice things that seem unusual. We see, smell, hear, taste, and touch new things. Our senses are heightened with unfamiliar stimulus. Our brain is literally trying to make sense of cultures, local behaviours, languages and everything new that makes a place and the people in it so unique and interesting. 

We become more alive when we travel.

The most seemingly mundane of activities like buying a metro ticket becomes 'an experience'. Jonah Lehrer said

‘We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has changed and that changes everything’.

Feeling like this is perfectly normal and psychologists have confirmed the truth behind this with experiments. New sounds, smells, language, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and have the potential to alter our rivers of thinking in the mind, leading to enhanced creativity. 

‘Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to take deep connections between disparate forms,’ says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who has conducted many studies on the connection between creativity and international travel.
Galinsky goes on to say “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.”

But do we need to travel far to get more creative?

I don’t think so. We can easily replicate the sensation and create new connections without even leaving our county, we just need to try and re-wire our brain a little. Give these five things a try over the next week and let the new ideas start rolling in.

  1. Take a different route home from work.
  2. Swap the order of your morning routine.
  3. Take a trip by a mode of transport you don’t normal take to a local town you’ve never been.
  4. Take a recipe with at least two ingredients you’ve never heard of and make it for a friend.
  5. Buy a magazine you don’t normally buy and read it cover to cover.

Let me know how you get on, and number two is harder than it sounds. Trust me.

Last thing, be wary of the Internet

The web has connected the whole world and done some pretty amazing things like bringing us together to campaign against injustice or introduced us to Dimdim the heart-warming penguin but it has also shrunk the world into a screen in the palm of our hands.

An experience on screen will never beat a real world experience. So even though we are so virtually connected right now - it’s even more important to experience new things too so we can physically connect.

So I guess that leaves us with just one question, where are you going to go?

And if you fancy going to Copenhagen here are four creative solutions that made the city that little bit better.

Areas for commuters to stand while they wait for people to get off the train. Genius.

Areas for commuters to stand while they wait for people to get off the train. Genius.

Someone added a bike helmet– since everyone cycles in Copenhagen this was a particularly nice touch.

Someone added a bike helmet– since everyone cycles in Copenhagen this was a particularly nice touch.

Cute dogs who worked in a cool Sneakers and Coffee shop.

Cute dogs who worked in a cool Sneakers and Coffee shop.

Fish tanks in the train station. Making it a more relaxing place when queuing.

Fish tanks in the train station. Making it a more relaxing place when queuing.